Black deaths in custody must stop!

Issue 

By John Nebauer

BRISBANE — The death in custody of an 18-year-old youth has sent waves of anger through the Aboriginal community and has raised serious questions about police harassment of Aborigines.

Daniel Yock died in custody on the night of Sunday, November 7, after being detained by police officers in Bereton Street near Musgrave Park in South Brisbane along with another 17-year-old Aborigine.

The community has grave concerns about the circumstances of his death. There are major discrepancies between police accounts and those of a number of witnesses.

According to police reports, Daniel died on the way to hospital, but according to the youth who was arrested with him, Daniel was dead before the police vehicle arrived at the car park of the Brisbane city watch-house.

The youth also said that it was more than an hour before the police van arrived at the watch-house, and that he had tried without success to alert police in the van that Daniel needed assistance. One of the recommendations of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission was that "in no case should a person be transported by police to a watch-house when that person is either unconscious or not easily roused".

Provocation

Daniel Yock's death produced an immediate response, with about 250 Aborigines and supporters marching to Roma Street police station, occupying the street and holding a rally on Monday. A fight between police and some demonstrators at the nearby Roma Street Transit Centre was caused by police provocation, according to Aboriginal community representative Robbie Williams.

Williams told Green Left Weekly, "The police were throwing cans and were taunting our people. Some were yelling 'Go home you boong', and 'Go home you black bastards'. It seemed like they were out to provoke us.

"We were a peaceful group. We were marching in Danny's memory and to protest against this injustice, and the police just made it worse. It was a natural reaction on the part of our people, who were trying to protect themselves and our dignity."

The police response was to empty Roma Street police station, which was cordoned off by a large number of police officers. Police were sent into the Transit Centre to remove demonstrators, and used at least one police dog. A number of police and demonstrators were hurt in the incident. Media reports on Tuesday said that six police were injured, but by Saturday the figure was reported as 24.

The demonstration then moved onto Emma Miller Place, where the crowd was addressed by Aboriginal representatives. Sam Watson of the Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service told the rally that the authorities had until Friday to charge the three officers connected with the arrest.

A representative from the Torres Strait Islander community expressed solidarity with the Aboriginal community.

The rally was also addressed by members of Daniel's family, including writer, poet and activist Lionel Fogarty, Daniel's brother. Fogarty told the crowd of Daniel's talents as a dancer and singer who lived for Aboriginal culture.

Daniel, who was originally from Cherbourg, and who was living in West End, had started dancing when he was eight, and was a dancer with the Wakka Wakka dancers. "He loved his culture, his dancing and he wanted to go overseas to perform and take his culture overseas", Fogarty said.

The chairperson of Cherbourg Council said that Daniel was liked by everyone in the community. "He was a lad that loved sport. He loved boxing and played a lot of football as well."

The demonstration called for a series of national rallies to demand the end of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Constable resigns

Aboriginal police constable Trish Keddie resigned on November 8, saying that she had been called names behind her back such as "black bitch" and that she had been treated as subhuman by her colleagues. Keddie had begged to be assigned as an Aboriginal liaison officer, as none of the existing liaison officers are themselves Aboriginal.

Keddie joined the police force in June 1992. She had resigned three weeks previously because of "extreme dissatisfaction" with police treatment of Aborigines, but decided to stay on at Ipswich police station. She now believed that having Aborigines in the police force would bring no justice to Aboriginal people. "Aborigines were asked to join as tokens, to be used as political tools", she said.

A police autopsy, which was released to the media against the family's wishes, concluded that Daniel did not die as a result of violence after his arrest.

Sam Watson said that the family had asked the acting chair of the Criminal Justice Commission, Lew Wyvill, to delay releasing the results until Daniel Yock's funeral at Cherbourg on Tuesday, November 16.

The Aboriginal community has disputed the autopsy report, with Aboriginal spokesperson Robbie Williams saying, "All we will say is that he didn't die on the way to hospital". An independent Victorian pathologist will conduct a second autopsy at the request of the family.

The Aboriginal Legal Service urged the Criminal Justice Commission to take evidence in camera from youths who had witnessed the arrest of Daniel. The CJC is to determine whether any police officer was guilty of any misconduct, criminal offence or negligence in relation to Daniel Yock's death. It is also supposed to examine whether the relationship between the police and the Aboriginal community had any bearing on Daniel Yock's arrest.

The media have claimed that when Daniel Yock was apprehended by police, he was brandishing a fence paling, but Aboriginal spokesperson Robbie Williams told Green Left Weekly that the claim was totally unfounded. He said, "Daniel had not bothered to run from the police because he had no reason to run".

Intimidation

Eighty people attended a meeting at short notice on Thursday called to build support for justice for Aboriginal people and to help with preparation for the national rallies on Wednesday, November 17.

During the meeting, plain-clothes police were identified. Asked to explain their presence, one replied that he was there to find information for the safety of police and relay it to the department. After some discussion he was asked to leave; doing so, he threatened a participant at the meeting not to "come anywhere near me!"

The meeting heard reports that a number of non-Aboriginal people had come forward with information on harassment of Aboriginal youths by police.

Later that night, police tried to intimidate some people who had attended the meeting. Kerry Vernon told Green Left Weekly: "At about 11 p.m., I was leaving my house to drive a friend home. Directly across the road from me were three police vehicles and about eight or nine police standing watching my house."

A memorial service for Daniel Yock on Friday at Musgrave Park in South Brisbane was attended by about 300 members of the Aboriginal community and supporters, including a group of about 40 students from Yeronga High School. The service was led by Aunty Jean, an elder of the Aboriginal community, and addressed by the Reverend Noel Preston, a friend of Daniel's family, Sam Watson and a representative of the Torres Strait Islander community.

Also speaking at the service were Aboriginal poet and storyteller Maureen Watson, Harold Hopkins, Aunty Murna, Daniel Yock's cousin and other members of the community. The service was attended by family and friends from Cherbourg and friends from Thursday island.

Aboriginal community representative Tiger Bayles also addressed the service, saying that Daniel "was destined for great things". He said also, "We must struggle together, now and tomorrow, indigenous and non-indigenous, to make sure we don't lose any more of our young people".

Lionel Fogarty told the gathering that, contrary to press reports, Daniel was not an epileptic, but had a heart condition. He said that Daniel had been beaten and murdered.

Fogarty said that the Aboriginal community "need to form a united front with the non-indigenous community". He charged that the police and the media were trying to cover up what really happened, with the media concentrating on the police account of Daniel's death.

"He has been taken from us, but his spirit remains in our hearts and in our minds", said Fogarty. He urged the community to bring traditional spears, nulla-nullas and didgeridoos to next Wednesday's rally. "We must show our anger, but we must do so calmly and peacefully."

The CJC also announced that it would delay the start of its inquiry until Wednesday after the funeral.

Police threats

On Friday, Police Commissioner Jim O'Sullivan told the officers injured at Monday's demonstration that they would never again be used as "punching bags". Police said that they would examine news footage of the demonstration, and those who had "bashed" police would be charged.

However, Aboriginal spokesperson Tiger Bayles urged police to call off the attempt to charge Aboriginal protesters after Monday's incident, saying that both police officers and Aborigines had been injured and that such a move could inflame the situation.

Friday night was electric in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley mall as dozens of police cars and police on foot openly harassed blacks who frequented the area. One bystander, Maurice Sibelle, told Green Left Weekly: "I was standing near the mall with a group of young Murris when a police officer deliberately tried to provoke an incident with me. He obviously thought I was a Murri and told me to get them off the street. He stood very close to me and said 'We're not punching bags', obviously trying to provoke a fight." Throughout the night, police cars menacingly patrolled areas frequented by blacks.

The "Justice for All" rally will assemble at 9 a.m. at Musgrave Park and be followed by a march to Bereton Street, West End, where Daniel was arrested, and then into the city. For further information contact Noeleen or Trudi on (07) 846 5594. Donations can be forwarded to the Aboriginal Legal Service, PO Box 35, Roma St, Brisbane 4003 or phone (07) 221 1448. People are also urged to phone or fax MPs.
Rallies against deaths in custody: see page 22.

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